The Cost of Bullshit: Climate Change, National Security, and Inaction

photo: toolmantim via Flickr

photo: toolmantim via Flickr

While we’re waiting for Congress and the White House to do something productive together for once, let’s recap:

•  The Department of Defense said climate change is a critical strategic concern with regard to its operations and its impact on defense efforts, based on its legislatively-mandated Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) published two-plus years ago in 2010;

•  The State Department also said climate change is a serious threat to our national security, noted in its inaugural Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QQDR), also published two-plus years ago in 2010;

•  A who’s who of defense and diplomacy expressed their concerns about climate change and the need for urgent action, as Marcy noted two days ago; apparently whatever action has been taken so far has not impressed these experts as responsive to the threat climate change poses.

Yet if asked, the average American likely could not point to a single action taken by the U.S. government to reduce the impact of climate change.

In other words, all the effort expended and resources spent on drafting the components of the QDR and QQDR are wasted, the words published mere bullshit—more wasted government employees’ time and taxpayer money.

How much has this wordy inaction cost us?

Here’s a more specific opportunity to save taxpayer money:

…Of all military spending, energy accounts for a small proportion, roughly less than 2% of total military expenditures and 2% of total US energy usage–but is 93% of all US government energy consumption.In fact, the US military is the single biggest consumer of energy in the nation, at about 932 trillion BTU in 2009, resulting in 4% of all US carbon emissions.

Oil accounts for 78.5% of all US military energy usage (54% of that is jet fuel); electricity is 11%, direct use of natural gas comes in a bit under electricity. Direct use of coal and other sources of energy are small fractions of total usage. …

[source: TreeHugger.com, 05-MAY-2011]

The amount spent on energy surely hasn’t declined since these numbers were published in 2009.

Yet Congress and the White House have been locking horns over the sequester for some time now, looking for places to cut costs. Doesn’t it seem like any item should be ripe for examination and audit for cost-cutting if the government is the largest consumer?

Further:

…The United States is far and away the largest military spender on the planet–but you probably already knew that. How much more? In 2010 the US accounted for 42.8% of all military spending in the world (and has doubled military spending since 2001). The next nearest competitor, China, accounts for 7.3% of global military spending. The UK, France, and Russia each spend roughly 3.7%. Japan, Saudi Arabia, Germany and Italy round out the top ten. All other nations spending 25.3% combined.

In dollar terms, the grand total spent on military offense and defense in 2010 was $1.6 trillion. So based on those calculations, done by a Swedish think tank, the US outspent China by 5.86 times. …

[source: TreeHugger.com, 05-MAY-2011]

If the U.S. is the largest military spender, its energy expenditures must likewise be the largest globally. This means the U.S. military could provide the largest impact globally on climate change by urgently and robustly changing its fossil fuel consumption.

Which begs the question: are we going to stop wasting time and money on reports like the QDR and the QDDR when we’re clearly making no effort to follow the recommendations they contain by responding to climate change and its inherent national security risks?

Or are we going to save some serious money on downsizing our military’s fossil fuel consumption AND make immediate, widespread impact on climate change and national security at the same time?

We really need an answer because this bullshit is costing us a fortune in taxes and lost societal opportunities. (Hurricane Sandy cost the federal government at least $180 million dollars; it’s not yet clear how much February’s blizzard cost in tax dollars. Toronto CAN, however, spent CA$4 million on cleanup and repairs, and it was not the municipality hardest hit by the storm.)

And with each drought and mega-storm, the lack of response is costing us even greater treasure in loss of personal opportunities, homes and lives.

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10 replies
  1. P J Evans says:

    Political problem-solving:
    The solution is simple and obvious.
    Therefore it has to be someone else’s problem.

    (No one in government ever seems to be responsible for anything, including the consequences of their own actions.)

  2. Rayne says:

    @P J Evans: The problem isn’t quite as simple and obvious, but it’s ultimately our problem.

    This frozen government is the work of the Koch brothers and their kind. They’ve bought idiots who are either beholden to them directly, or are terrified of the army of know-nothings in the Tea Party who do their dirty work–not to mention the media they’ve purchased and/or threatened as well. The Kochs and their 1% brethren can afford to buy any property anywhere, avoid taxes in the process, and simply wait out the drowning of more liberal populations that live along the coasts most likely to be swamped by rising ocean level elevations.

    In the mean time, the Kochs do whatever they want to ensure they keep their piece of the all-American un-taxed pie — including kidnapping whistleblowers who pose a threat to their minimal tax status.

  3. der says:

    My experience with a local matter I found that the media plays a huge part towards any real conversation and action. The local county government of my Urbania wanted to turn a community park over to the fire department for a new station even though there were other, less impactful, options. Community outrage, letter writing, street rally’s that made the 6 o’clock news time, meeting with officials who already had made up their minds and seemed not too concerned, taking out full page ads, all had an effect, but the biggest thing that pushed the executive to put the station elsewhere and leave the playground alone was the local paper ran story after story showing not only both sides of the discussion but treated the community’s argument fairly and with front page reports and photos.

    Without the media being on board I see little progress.

  4. Rayne says:

    @der: Agreed–but that’s why we blog.

    There’ve been studies–generated outside U.S.–reflecting an enormous difference between U.S. and non-U.S. reporting on climate change. We’re one massive blackhole, a dearth of reporting, and much of it is bound up in news industry’s business model. They treat readers as assets for sale while treating advertisers as clients; news is fully integrated into a culture of consumerism over democracy, seeing itself now as an advertising venue versus the Fourth Estate.

    Readers could help by bitching at The New York Times for starters, as they’ve killed their environment desk. Incredibly stupid move: they sell off their golden goose, while ignoring their biggest single expense (printing).

  5. P J Evans says:

    @Rayne:
    Newspapers have always had the problem of ads vs actual news for readers – adss are what they actually make money on.

    (As for as the ‘simple and obvious solution’ – I was aiming at politicians, who don’t seem to be interested in fixing problems of any kind, including ones that should be easy to fix. That makes me wonder if there’s something in the water at the Capitol, or maybe if there’s too much CO2 in the air inside.)

  6. Rayne says:

    @P J Evans: They could be making more money from subscriptions if they placed more emphasis on product while reducing cost to operate. Pretty sure that’s Warren Buffett’s rationale for buying newspaper under Berkshire-Hathaway.

    The real cost is print; approx. $600/year subscription price for NYT, while its print costs are at least half of that. In 2009 when Kindles were still simple reading devices at $249 a pop, it would have been cheaper to both NYT AND the readers to provide a Kindle with an online subscription. Now that e-reader prices have plummeted, it’d save even more money to NYT and readers to move to a subscription with e-reader provided.

    The granularity of consumption data on e-reader subscriptions is worth money in itself. Craziness.

    As for politicians doing the easy thing–as soon as they win, they are already campaigning for the next term, and they are sucking up to the biggest checkwriters while cowering from the Tea Party belligerents. If only a few of them would air all of this out where the public can see it…

  7. Jeff Kaye says:

    As someone who considers socialism to be superior to capitalism, I will not take any comfort in fact that capitalism is uniquely unprepared and unable to tackle the actual problem of global warming. As long as profit motive and private property paramount, not to mention the chaos of international capitalist competition between nation states, real progress on this will not take place.

    Until environmental activists understand that capitalism is the current problem, not the actions of individual states, corporations or individuals, who are merely acting according to the dictates of the capitalist system, then the next decade of “progress” will look a lot like the past 10 years. What do the rich capitalists care? They may hate to give up their coastal beach houses and trips to the Seychelles, but they can afford it, while millions of working and poor people will face inundation.

  8. Rayne says:

    @Jeff Kaye: Really believe it’s going to take a mixed approach — top-down, a la socialism, and bottom-up, a la capitalism — to fix this mess in a hurry. The scenarios from past societal failures Jared Diamond outlined in his book Collapse give us plenty of examples.

    The problem is cutting off the head of this stinking fish in order to kick start the cure.

  9. Jeff Kaye says:

    @Rayne: They don’t mix. Diamond’s book is our future, but not literally. Instead, the dystopias of a decaying capitalist world are likely future, unless world population capable of leap in consciousness. But then, I think the nukes will get us first. Nuclear war is greatest danger still.

  10. jawbone says:

    Jared Diamond’s Collapse is a must read for anyone concerned about our future, both global and national. When leaders are insulated from the looming catastrophe, when they think whatever is wrong with their area of concern is working but they are still OK, civilizations fail.

    Too bad Big Bidness and Big Money think they can still buy their way out of whatever climate change brings. Those not in the top quintile economically are viewed as unnecessary to their continued well being. And, for the Tippy Top of the One Percenters, they may be correct.

    Bush the Younger had all sorts of alternate energy built into his “ranch” site, but would not work to ensure the benefits of alternate energy were available to the bottom quintiles. He was secure in thinking he had the means to take care of himself and his near and dear (whether family or those who were important in assisting him).

    The One Percenters think they can continue because they can afford the latest and best technology for alt fuels. They fell insulated. And they feel we don’t benefit them any more. Who needs the numbers of workers once necessary to run a business? They feel they do not; so, so long, been good to know ya, great unwashed (well, when the water shortages hit us, we may well be…).

    We, the great numbers not in the One Percenters’ economic niche, are purely expendable. By their definition, since we can’t afford the higher rents and prices they expect to may profits on.

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